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Roving Reporter by Anand Vasu at Edgbaston
September 19, 2004
Imagine being trapped in a glasshouse with thousands of hornets buzzing angrily around you. Multiply that sound by several hundred decibels and the result approaches the colossal continuous hooting and honking at Edgbaston when India took on Pakistan with a semi-final berth at stake in the Champions Trophy.
For sheer mindless noise there's nothing like a combined Indian and Pakistani crowd in England. Every event in the ground becomes something to be cheered. Leg-byes bunted down to fine leg are greeted with roars. The third umpire's decision-pending seconds become unbearably tense.
And tension was as plentiful as the lager on the day. Huge scores made on flat subcontinental tracks can never jangle the nerves like a closely fought, low-scoring affair. In games like the one India and Pakistan wrestled out, every run assumes vital significance, and each maiden over is a noose-tightening gambit. But for the best part of the day, you would think that a lot of these points were lost on the crowd.
When India lost the toss and were put in, the Indian fans cheered lustily, hardly realising that the first hour in the morning was the worst for batting and that the game could easily be lost in that period. As it happened, India did suffer, losing three wickets for just 28, and the noise level suddenly dipped. The Pakistani supporters, who were easily outnumbered by their blue-shirted counterparts, did their best to keep up the cacophony. But what of the man straddling the fence?
One gent had a T-shirt stitched from a half each of Pakistan's green and India's blue. He, and a not inconsiderable band of brothers, were simply there because it was the place to be, in England. Inevitably the odd skirmish broke out in the stands, especially when some British Asians were not thought to be doing enough to support one country or slag off the other. There was talk about peace and reconciliation - and even one low-flying plane with a banner to that effect circling low around the stadium.
The real tension, however, was not in the stands, but out on the field. Shoaib Akhtar, whose 4 for 36 had gone a big way in wrecking India's batting, was so pumped up that he could not resist the temptation of extending his already bountiful follow-through long enough to breathe fire into the faces of batsmen fighting to make a contribution in trying circumstances. "A lot has been said about me, but I love playing cricket, and I love playing for my country," he said after bundling India out for 200.
But Shoaib will be Shoaib. What really belied the players' repeated assertions that this was "just another game" was Rahul Dravid's body language. One of the most polite cricketers on the circuit, Dravid is so conscious of not just playing cricket in the right spirit, but being seen to do things that way, that he never responds to the most insistent taunts. But today, even he came off his perch and bristled with aggression. His fearsome defiance of the Pakistani bowlers gave India's innings the fire in the belly that many thought had died down in recent weeks.
And when he took the field, back in the big gloves, Dravid's machismo was even more evident. When he took his first catch, pouching Imran Farhat off a raging Irfan Pathan, he threw the ball up in the air and waited under it, fingers pointed intently, elbows pumping, like a pair of smoking guns.
And then, when Ashish Nehra juggled, fumbled, fobbed and then finally caught Yasir Hameed at long leg, Dravid charged towards him - and you would have given anything for a chance to look in his eyes at that very moment. For that was a moment, if ever such a thing was possible, that Dravid would have thought nothing of being the good boy, and instead would have had a manic gleam in his eyes, and a desperate hope for that special effort that would lift India to victory against the old enemy. And, when India-Pakistan matches can do that to Dravid, how can you complain about the madmen in the crowd blowing their trumpets all day?
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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